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It was on a sabbatical in England in the late seventies that Suniti Namjoshi discovered feminism - or rather, she discovered that other feminists existed, and many among them shared her thoughts and doubts, her questions and visions.
Since then, she has been writing - fables, poetry, prose autobiography, children's stories - about power, about inequality, about oppression, effectively using the power of language and the literary tradition to expose what she finds absurd and unacceptable.
This new collection brings together in one volume a huge range of Namjoshi's writings, starting with her classic collection, Feminist Fables, and coming right up to her latest work.
"Namjoshi is a fabulist who is never preachy. A feminist who is never humourless. A poet who is never arcane. An intellectual who is never pedantic... Her work points to a deeply internalized radicalism, one that has as much depth as it has edge. Quirky, funny, intellectually agile, capable of making connections between the mundane and the metaphysical, adept at sniffing out the archetypal in the culturally particular, they point to a mind that is as engaged as it is engaging." -- Arundhathi Subramaniam
Fateema opened her diary and began writing: “Jihad as mentioned by the Prophet is a war against injustice and oppression. Islam means peace and surrender. Islam does not recommend killing innocent people. The Prophet released hundreds of slaves from bondage and sent themback to their native land.”
There was a lot more she could write. She would one day. Not for others, but to her own people she would explain the meaning of the word ‘Islam’.
For a bright young woman like Fateema Lokhandwala, the idea that one day she might own her own house is a daring dream. Her father has spent his life, slaving away selling scrap metal so that his children might ‘jump the fence of poverty and illiteracy’. Fateema dreams not only of owning her own house, but of higher education, a better job, a wider world. Her brother, Kareem, is persuaded down a very different path – to join the jihad, to become a holy warrior.
Ila Arab Mehta’s moving and sharply observed novel follows one woman’s struggle to find her way in a world torn by communal violence, to reconcile her conflicting loyalties to her family and friends, to find a place that she can ultimately call ‘home’, a place where fences –between communities, between people – are no longer necessary.
Set in mid-nineteenth century Assam when the forces of tradition were being challenged by new concepts of modernity, Swarnalata is the story of three women from very different social backgrounds, each caught in the whirlpool of change, each trying to chart her own course in life, heroically, silently. As the intertwined lives of Swarnalata, Tora and Lakhi unfold, the reader is taken on a fascinating journey into the social milieu of the times where issues like women's education and widow remarriage held centre stage. The plight of indentured labour, peasant resistance against colonial exploitation, the reformist initiatives of the Brahmo Samaj and the proselytizing efforts of the Christian missionaries are themes that run through the narrative. Considered one of the finest historical novels in Assamese, where real historical personages - such as Rabindranath Tagore - are presented side by side with fictional characters, Swarnalata provides a wonderful blend of history and fiction. Swarnalata was first published in Asomiya in 1991. It was awarded the Ishan Puraskar by the Bhartiya Bhasha Parishad in 1995 and translated into Bangla and Hindi under the 'Adaan-Pradaan' programme of the National Book Trust. The Asomiya original is now in its fouth edition and has received wide critical acclaim in the last 15 years.
Each story in this anthology testifies to women's many concerns, whether with a way of life, or with being caught inside the four walls of the home, or in a relationship with someone other than the husband, or being caught at the intersection of many forces within a situation of political violence and armed conflict. In one way or another the woman's body becomes a site upon which many battles take place: for control, for power, for progeny, but there is seldom a resolution in which the women remain a mere victim, or more acted upon the acting. Whether she is in the palaces of the gods, or caught in the body of snake, or speaking through the spirit of the countryside which witnessed her rape, the woman's voice is unique, singular and in each story, different. While this gives substance to the cliche that India is a country where many and varied realities exist simultaneously, it gives the lie to the cliche that all women speak with a sameness and a commonality of experience.
Contributors: Vandana Singh, Indira Goswami, Temsula Ao, Mridula Garg, Shama Futehally, Shashi Deshpande, Nayantara Sehgal, Mahasweta Devi, Anjana Appachana, Manjula Padmanabhan, C.S. Lakshmi (Ambai), Bulbul Sharma, Anita Agnihotri, Priya Sarukkai Chabria, Githa Hariharan, Chandrika B.
Urvashi Butalia is a publisher and writer. Co-founder of Kali for Women, India's best-known feminist publisher, and now Director of Zubaan, she is also author of the award winning oral history of Partition, The Other Side of Silence: Voices from the Partition of India. Her other publications include Women and the Hindu Right (co-edited with Tanika Sarkar) and Speaking Peace: Women's Voices from Kashmir (edited).
A postman turns up with an unexpected letter one rainy afternoon in Cherrapunji, a letter that will turn fourteen-year-old Saphira’s world upside down.
Dalinia’s life seems perfect, with a successful husband, beautiful children and a well-appointed home. But the arrival of a handsome competitor on the manicured greens of the Shillong golf course brings back a flood of unwanted memories of her troubled past.
Told in a simple, lyrical style, Bijoya Sawian’s collection of ten short stories is not only an enthralling read but, like her debut novel Shadow Men, transports the reader to a place little known to outsiders: Meghalaya.
Strains of love, loss and longing run through all these stories, whose endings are not mere shocks, but revelations. Both her books should be read for a better understanding of India’s Northeast – its communities, its landscape, and in particular, the lives of the women who live there.
“Love, loss and longing are the predominant emotions in these tales. With a touch of Blakesian magic, Sawian’s songs of innocence and experience are lyrical and pantheistic. [The] stories, like vintage wine, have a mature blend of wit and irony, sense and sensibility and the ability to stay with the reader long after the covers are closed.”—Sudipta Bhattacharjee, Telegraph
Published in March of 1899, Muhammad Hadi Ruswa's famous novel Umrao Jaan Ada created a sensation when it came out, with its candid account of the life of Umrao Jaan, a semi-fictional, possibly real, Lucknow courtesan. Subsequent translations and films based on the book have further extended the fame of both the book and Umrao, the character.
What is less known, however, is that a month after he wrote Umrao Jaan Ada, Ruswa penned a short text, a novella entitled Junun-e-Intezar (The Madness of Waiting, April 1899) in which Umrao avenges herself on her creator, Ruswa, by narrating the story of his life.
Blurring the lines between truth and fiction, narrator and character, this clever narrative strategy gives the courtesan a speaking voice. While Umrao Jaan Ada, continues to evoke interest, this paratext has been completely forgotten. Here, translators and editors Krupa Shandilya and Taimoor Shahid, one a scholar from India and the other from Pakistan, attempt to redress this with their translation of Ruswa's novella and their critical introduction which rethinks Umrao Jaan Ada and the Urdu literary milieu of late nineteenth-century Lucknow.
This book contains both the Urdu text (in facsimile) and its translation for the bilingual reader.
Count Jorge was a fabulously wealthy, devastatingly good-looking socialite, a leading figure in the South American city of San Felice. When he is found brutally stabbed to death, it soon becomes clear that ‘polite’ society in San Felice is anything but.
Is the murder linked to the Indian Ambassador, himself a victim of blackmail? Why is his wife, whom he suspects of having an affair with the Count, so apparently unaffected by his death? Who is the young man with the honey-coloured hair who takes the news, by contrast, so terribly badly? As for the Commissioner of Police, he is trying to decide which discovery is the more problematic: the corpse lying on the bed, or the Ambassador’s daughter’s riding boots lying underneath it.
There’s plenty of intrigue, backstabbing (literal as well as metaphorical), gossip and drama to enjoy in Chandralekha Mehta’s sparkling debut novel.
Early twentieth century Madras. In a dark room in the corner of a house, Goutami's mother dies in childbirth. Barely a year old, Goutami, or Goutu as everyone calls her, crawls into the birth-death room, seeing and smelling death, loss, fear -- things she does not then understand but which will mark her for life. A motherless child, a rebellious girl, a headstrong woman who will not deny her sexuality, a fighter for whom lying becomes a strategy for survival: Goutami's search for love leads her to Krishnanand, cousin and ladies' man, suave and practiced, who beds all young cousins before they marry. But life intervenes and Goutami marries Seshadri. Solid, steady, ambitious, a good husband and an adequate father, Seshadri is nonetheless unable to give her one thing she craves: love. The ins and outs of family's relationships. The search for love and a sense of belonging, form the subtext of this beautifully crafted novel by first time novelist Prema Raghunath. In the end for Goutu, as for her lovers, siblings and children, salvation comes from the very stuff of life itself.
In Suki, fabulist Suniti Namjoshi weaves a delightful tapestry from threads of longing, loss, memory, metaphor, and contemplation. The whole picture is a stunning evocation of the love and friendship shared between S and her Super Cat, Suki, a lilac Burmese. Suki suggests that she could be a goddess, and S her high priestess. S declines, but as they discuss the merits of vegetarianism, or the meaning of happiness, or morality, or just daily life, it soon becomes clear that the bond between them is a deep and complex one. The days of Suki's life are figured as leaves, which fall vividly but irrevocably into time's stream and are recollected with a wild tenderness by the grieving S, who learns through the disciplines of meditation how to lose what is most loved.
This beautiful narrative, both memoir and elegy, offers solace and celebration to everyone who has felt the trust that passes between a person and a beloved creature.
The Dungri Garasiya, an indigenous group in north Gujarat, believed that the first being to be created was woman and so in their society women were as respected as men and property passed down from mother to daughter.
At the dawn of creation, girls were as desired as sons. It was a time when girls beat boys in games and races: a time when there was no gender divide. And so also in these stories it is the women who are stronger, wiser, faster, sharper, and certainly far more beautiful than their men. It is they who think out of the box, who are imaginative and creative and full of wise ideas.
From tales of ghostly possession to magic mantras, from kings and queens full of passion to village youth bursting with sexual ardour, these timeless folktales are full of the joy of being alive, of sensual enjoyment and pleasure. While Kudrat (God is imagined as being feminine) and Deva conspire and wreak havoc on their people, the dance of life continues with naked young maidens swimming in the streams or being courted by dark handsome youths amidst much laughter and teasing. The forests are full of birds and beasts and fish and life for the tribals is for the most part simple and innocent, truth and right always prevail and defeat the forces of darkness — be it a scheming stepmother, a murderous wife or lover, or a cruel and lustful king.
The Story of Felanee is based on real life events. It is a story of courage, of survival, of ethnic conflict and violence that tears people and communities apart in the most brutal, savage way.
Set in Assam, which has seen two major agitations that have crippled the economy, this is a story that will shock the reader by its sheer passion, and its brutal honesty. The callousness and utter disregard for human life, the ugly play for power, for electoral gain, the sham and petty hypocrisies, the bloody horror of ethnic violence all lie exposed in this powerful novel written by one of Assam’s leading fiction writers.
The story revolves around the experiences of one woman: Felanee. Her name means ‘thrown away’—so called because as her mother lay dying in the burning riot-torn village, Felanee was thrown into a swamp and left to die. But against all odds, Felanee—and thousands like her—survived.
Like the reeds that grow in such profusion along the bank of Assam’s rivers, the rootless inhabitants of the refugee camps and makeshift shanties, whose stories form the core of Felanee, are swept along by the wind and thrown onto new hostile terrain but they cling on with tenacity to take root again and again.
Rukmini is married to the District Collector of a small town in Assam, and teaches in the local college. On the surface her life is settled and safe, living in the big beautiful bungalow on the hill above the cremation ground, seemingly untouched by the toil and sufferings of the common folk living 'below’. And yet there is an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty that grips the town each time there is an 'incident’ and this has its repercussions on her life too—for Assam is in the grip of insurgency and it is this thread that runs like a dark river through the novel and forms its plot.
The Assam students’ agitation of the 1970s and 1980s has grown into a full-blown agitation today with kidnappings, extortions, and political instability being the order of the day. The meaninglessness of the violence, the complexities that divide 'them’ and 'us’ and the point at which the two merge are all explored here and the final dénouement is horrifying and yet true–for there can be no other 'end’ to such a tale both in personal and political terms.
Mitra Phukan is a well-known Assamese writer and contributes regularly to prominent English dailies in the North East. She has recently edited a collection of Assamese short stories and published a number of books for children.
This anthology is not only about what Gujarati women speak, but also what they don’t. In a state that registers increasing cases of violence against women, what kind of truths does its literature embody?
If malestream writing in Gujarat seldom mirrors its everyday truths, do the women risk unpleasantness? Kothari’s introduction builds upon such premises and leads the reader to a trajectory of women writers from the beginning of the twentieth century to the present day, starting with the journal entries of a dancer at the end of the nineteenth century, to the journal entries of an academic woman at the end of the twentieth century. The wide range of stories and fictional excerpts show how Gujarati women inhabit their fictional worlds. The trajectory hints at an imperceptible shift from muffled voices to more candid ways of being, and yet it never loses completely the middle-class genteelness that characterizes literary discourses in Gujarat.
Rita Kothari teaches at St. Xavier’s College, Ahmedabad. Her publications on literary sociology of Gujarat and translation include Translating India, Modern Gujarati Poetry: A Selection, Coral Island: Poems by Niranjan Bhagat, Angaliyat (a Gujarati Dalit novel). Her forthcoming book is Stigmatised Identities: The Sindhis of Gujarat.
A Dalit, a Buddhist and a feminist: Urmila Pawar's self-definition as all three identities informs her stories about women who are brave in the face of caste oppression, strong in the face of family pressures, defiant when at the receiving end of insult, and determined when guarding their interests and those of their sisters. Using the classic short story form with its surprise endings to great effect, Pawar brings to life strong and clever women who drive the reader to laughter, anger, tears or despair. Her harsh, sometimes vulgar and hard- hitting language subverts another stereotype - that of the soft-spoken woman writer. Pawar's protagonists may not always be Dalit, and the mood not always one of anger, but caste is never far from the context and informs the subtext of each story. As critic Eleanor Zelliot notes, there is 'tucked in every story, a note about a Buddhist vihara or Dr Ambedkar.... All her stories come from the Dalit world, revealing the great variety of Dalit life now.'
"The book gives a wide range of material on one of the important struggles of feminism in India." -- Gail Omvedt, The Hindu
December 2012: Tens of thousands of people – women, men, families, young, old, rich, poor – come out onto the streets of towns and cities in India to protest the brutal gang rape and murder of a young medical student in Delhi. For days and months, the protests refuse to die down. People demand change, action, commitment to the ideals of democracy and egalitarianism. And they refuse to be silenced.
Soon, a new law is put in place. More and more people start to report incidents of sexual assault. New conversations, new debates begin: is violence increasing? Are we seeing more of it? Was it previously invisible?
In this bold and brilliant collection of visual stories, fourteen young women respond to the activism and debates on the ground; they negotiate anger, fear, hope, resistance. Created in a week-long workshop, these stories talk to each other as they powerfully describe the fierce determination of the writers/artists to continue the battle for change.
“…the story transcends linguistic and geographical boundaries. It is a story of virtually every Indian home…The discussion -which makes up the Afterword also seeks to put the story in a historical and anthropological perspective which makes Shree’s Mai an academic study.” The Hindu
“…it is eminently readable … The Book Review
“seeks to assert the humanness of mother. Maternalism with a human face, perhaps is feminism for hard times.” The Tribune
Geetanjali Shree is a well-known Hindi novelist and short story writer, who has also written a critical work on Premchand.
Nita Kumar is the author of The Artisans of Banaras: Friends, Brothers and Informants, Lessons from School, and editor of Women as Subjects.
It's raining in Shillong. Eight-year-old Sophie Das has just realised she is adopted, but there is also the baby kicking inside her mother s stomach whom she s dying to meet. IAS aspirant Aman Moondy is planning a first-of-its-kind Happening and praying the lovely Concordella will come. College lecturer Firdaus Ansari is going to finish her thesis, have a hard talk with her boyfriend, and then get out.
Poetic, funny, tender, Lunatic in my Head is a moving portrait of a small town and of three people joined to each other in an intricate web, determined to break out of their small town destinies.
A woman haunted by the wind. A land where ghosts speak for the voiceless. A washer of the dead who begins to hear them speak...These are the stories of the unquiet. Women whisper through this collection. They voice their loves, lives, fears and yearnings. To label this collection as 'ghost stories' or 'feminist stories' is to miss the nuances and range of female experience. As ghost stories they make you look uneasily over your shoulder, as female narrative they stun you with the power of their keen insight. Whimsical, terrifying and compelling, these powerful and haunting tales about our commonplace fears and tragedies provide a scathing commentary on the lives of women in India and are universal in their appeal.
When nine-year-old Ayman arrives in Hyderabad in the early 1950s to come and live at the Hussaini Alam House, she little realizes that the house, and its many inmates, will come to haunt her life and shape her destiny as she grows to become a woman. The house is ruled over by her grandfather, a dignified despot, whom everyone but Ayman, her mother and sister, call 'Sarkar' (master). Her mother, 'the eternal rebel,' is irreverent, progressive and a communist: a bomb waiting to explode. Ayman herself alternates between being the 'ugly duckling' of the house and its little princess. Huma Kidwai's sensitive and vivid portraits of the characters who teem around the House, offer a window into the customs and mores of a traditional Hyderabadi Muslim family. Narrated by the 40-year-old Ayman as she recalls the events of her past, The Hussaini Alam House is an elegy to a vanished way of life, a lovesong to the people she has loved and lost, and a psychologically nuanced portrait of the women of the household as they tread a fine line between society's expectations and their own yearning for freedom.
Set in the heady years preceding independence, this is the story of young Binapani growing up in a small Assamese town. Headstrong, stubborn and high-spirited, Binapani is confronted with a world full of confusing questions: why are girls not allowed to study? Why is the nationalist hero, Bullet Kaka hidden away in her grandmother’s shed? Why does Mahendra Barua’s family suffer such humiliation and indignity? Why is the rich Haitha Sarai feted and fawned upon? Why is his daughter tied up and starved in a dark room? Why is the Christian boy, Ratan, an outcaste? Her young mind grapples with countless questions and through it all is the abiding relationship she shares with her old grandmother, Jashodha. Married off to the rich Chaliha whom she has always hated, the ebullient young Bina turns inwards, seeking an inner strength and calm and makes her home ‘an abode of peace’.
Arupa Kalita Patangia is one of Assam’s leading, award winning novelists. She has more than ten novels and short story collections to her credit including Mriganabhi (1987) and Millenniumar Sapon (2002). She teaches English at Tangla College, Assam.
Ranjita Biswas has translated a number of well-known Bengali and Assamese novels into English.
In Other Words brings you 14 of the most innovative and adventurous contemporary Indian women writers. The stories in this collection are remarkable not only for this richness of subject and style, but also for the confidence and poise of their writing. All the authors, except two, belong to the post-Independence generation. Their preoccupations range from an observation of the past through the lives of their ancestresses, to that of the present, sparkling, but exquisitely poignant vignette of growing up urban in the 80's. For some, fiction writing- and the short story in particular- is relatively new; each writer approaches the language in which she has chosen to write-English-and the art and craft of fiction writing, with a confidence and panache that is hard to match.
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